Aeneas, Anchises, and Ascanius is a masterpiece by Gian Lorenzo Bernini created in 1618-1619. The sculpture depicts a scene from the Aeneid, where Aeneas leads his family from burning Troy.
The sculpture was created when Bernini was only twenty years old. It is assumed that Pietro Bernini, father of Gian Lorenzo Bernini, helped his son in the sculpture’s creation. Pietro’s artworks were famous and Mannerist sculptures were even commissioned by the Pope. When Pope Paul V saw the works of Gian Lorenzo, he could not believe in a talent of such a young boy. Cardinal Scipione Borghese, who commissioned the sculpture, loved arts, money and male physical beauty. It is said that the sculpture is influenced by earlier works of other famous artists. For instance, the statue of Christ by Michelangelo, located in Santa Maria sopra Minerva, has served as a prototype for the figure of Aeneas. Moreover, the head of Aeneas matches with Pietro Bernini’s John the Baptist, located in Cappella Barberini in Sant’ Andrea della Valle. In addition, it is assumed that it has elements taken from Raphael’s Fire at the Borgo, located in the Vatican Museums.
This life-sized group represents three generations of the Aeneas family. The theme of Aeneas’s flight from Troy, with his father Anchises on his back and accompained by his son Ascanius and his wife Creusa – the latter is not shown in the sculptural group – is drawn from the second book of Virgil’s “Aeneid”. In the figures of the father, son and grandson there is an obvious reference to the topic, which is often painted, of the three ages of man. The embodiment of Anchises on Aeneas’s back shows an issue of statics that Antonio Pollaiolo had had to resolve in his “Hercules and Antaeus,” while Leonardo described it from a theoretical point of view.
In the “Aeneid” Virgil did not specify how Anchises was carried on his son’s back, and Bernini, taking an example from earlier sculptural creations, such as Giambologna’s “Rape of the Sabines,” also accepted the challenge of portraying the movement of a weight by a walking figure.
The figures of Aeneas and Anchises – and with them the union of youth and old age – are seen in connection to the political role of pope’s nephew, Scipione Borghese, who was able to support his elderly uncle. Moreover, in the 17th century doubts were raised to the artwork’s autorship: the German artist and writer Joachim von Sandrart assigned the sculpture to Pietro Bernini and his sons, while Domenico Bernini attributed it to his father, Gian Lorenzo, as did Bernini’s biographer, Filippo Baldinucci. Art historians discussed this question from the end of the 19th century to the mid-20th century, until an archive document which prooves the work of Gian Lorenzo Bernini was found.
The sculptural group is made of white marble. Its height is 220 cm and the pedestal’s height is 113 cm